An eerie silence descends in mountains after dark. A few people scuttling back to their homes. The pariah dogs had taken over parts of Chowrasta in Darjeeling or the Mall (as it is popularly known among tourists). It was just around 7:15PM in the evening. The Quarterfinal match between England and Sweden was about to begin. A friend of mine had descended from Delhi and suddenly he had decided to go to the much hyped and advertised – the newly declared “World Cup Town” of India, or as they say there – world famous in India, a.k.a Darjeeling for the quarterfinals match. I had told him that there nothing as such there, but then he had to see it to believe it.
We were astounded by the Nehru Road leading to the Mall which fluttered with Chinese made flags (both big and small) of all the countries participating in the FIFA world cup. There were walls which had pictures of the flags of participating countries and star players of the world cup. A wall also had pictures of different world cup balls including the famous Brazuca (of the Brasil2014 fame) somehow the organisers or whoever had forgotten the Telstra18 (the official match ball of Russia 2018). The vehicles, shops, hotels and many of the houses had their favourite country flags strung up. It was also interesting to see that this had also given an opportunity to all the people to have a respite from the political party flag culture. Perhaps the very same party cadres that used to put up party flags, now happily replaced party with country flags of the footballing nations.
So… what is the World Famous in India “World Cup Town” like? I happened to ask some of the tourists that I had my usual inquisitive chit chat with. During the parley, I asked if they knew that Darjeeling had declared itself as the “World Cup Town” and what came as a response was a dumb awestruck expression. One of the tourists even got excited and asked me if there were any events that were happening in the town and whether he had missed it during his short stay. My reply to that was an equally dumber expression. Other than the excessive display of the ‘Made in China’ flags fluttering on the roads and the groups of people talking about the football matches there was nothing to talk much of football or the big screen at Chowrasta beaming recorded matches (that also only during day) with just about a handful (actually handful) crowd giving glances at the screen and every once in a while.
A shopkeeper told me that even he was astonished to see the flags come up overnight. No one had an inkling who did it and how it came about.
We happened to enter a restaurant which was buzzing with activity and thought it was one of the happening places where people had gathered to watch football matches. But Alas! Hope it was true. Sadly, it was just someone’s birthday and the place was actually lifeless, where families and some tourists had gathered to have their meals, but occasionally looked at the television when the commentator’s voice reached a crescendo.
We moved on and finally decided to go to the most happening restaurant of Darjeeling who’s owner had come on camera to declare Darjeeling a “World Cup Town” and to enjoy the magic of the game forgetting all that had happened in Darjeeling hills just a year back. The place was packed with people but without any television in the main restaurant area (really do not know if he had planted a TV in some other area). A guy was crooning tunes of yesteryears and made the place lively with his music. A group of youngsters was again celebrating a birthday and a few old men (tourists) were drinking their liver out and discussing business, tourism and family problems. The only respite was the waiters who were wearing Chinese made duplicate version of football team jerseys and some of the tables had the flags of different nations.
That was all a football town could offer us.
Hushed tones of last year’s euphoric summer of discontent still hung large over the people and their thought processes. No one wanted to discuss anything in public. When I asked that the least that could have been done was to turn the Giant Screen on when the Live matches were being broadcast, in a hushed tone they said that “it was not possible and no one wanted to take chances”. I wanted to hear so much from them, but a blank docile hush-hush expression was all I got. No response !!!
As the first match ended, we had finished our dinner. It had started drizzling by now. We had to rush to our hotel as early as possible. Not in the distress of getting drenched but for the lust of football as the next quarterfinal would be starting soon. As we started running towards the hotel with our handkerchiefs on our head, a few policemen straightened their heads and observed us from the corner of the road and again turned back to what they were doing.
The pariah dogs which had come out in the night sojourn parted to make way for us.
The gashes are deeper. Deep within, there is an uneasiness. A heaviness of heart. Everyone knows it. Everyone feels it. The strikes, shootouts, death and lathi charge are so fresh that the lull in your heart looms large. Probably everyone has put up the flags, worn the team jerseys and there are videos which have proclaimed the fanfare or have given some a small window of happiness and celebration… but the anger, remorse, and worthlessness in a staged administrative set up where people project the new normal is but an apparition.
Darjilangays know for sure that the real celebrations are yet to come.
You cannot make a staged Football World Cup Town… Overnight…
The spirit of celebration is always within! Period!